Obama Fundraising Redux: Campaign Stimulus?

After writing about Obama’s fundraising overhype, at least one commenter noted that at least Obama can direct his money straight to efforts to help him in the general election, while the GOP candidates will burn through much of their funds in the primaries. Although I addressed that point directly, the comment raises the question of how Obama is spending his money so far:

President Obama is exploiting his early lead in campaign fund-raising to bankroll a sprawling grass-roots organization and information technology apparatus in critical general election battlegrounds. He is doing so even as the Republican candidates conserve cash and jockey for position in what could become a drawn-out nominating battle.


The president is already paying staff employees in at least 38 states, including Wisconsin, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico and North Carolina. His Chicago campaign headquarters hums with more than 200 paid aides.

And Mr. Obama has spent millions of dollars investing in social media and information technology, applying both savvy and brute technological force to raising small-dollar donations, firing up volunteers and building a technical infrastructure to sustain his re-election campaign for the next year.

The gap in spending underscores facts easily lost amid the president’s low approval ratings, his challenges in winning over independent voters and the gridlock he faces in Washington: Mr. Obama brings unmatched financial resources to the campaign trail, and a team with a well-honed sense of where and how to deploy money, people and technology.

Longtime readers of mine will know I am an enthusiast on such matters. In 2008, I regularly wrote about Obama’s social media organizing and less well-known elements like Catalist, the for-profit voter databank run by Democratic fixer Harold Ickes. So when the NYT tries to impress me with the 2012 effort, my first thought is that this is largely the story of how Team Obama failed to sustain and improve Organizing For America after folding it into the DNC.

My second thought is about the other side of the aisle. The NYT notes:

That gap explains, in part, why Republican-oriented independent groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity are devising plans to spend millions of dollars this year on social media and voter-identification efforts, with a major focus on helping the eventual Republican candidate win the White House.

Indeed, groups affiliated with Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are mounting competing efforts, including projects aimed at Latino voters. The Rovians are partnered with the RNC, which is not surprising in light of their history of working with the RNC in this area. And the RNC will end up controlled by the eventual GOP nominee. The advantage touted by the NYT is undercut by the graf buried mid-story.

That Team Obama is having to reinvent the wheel to this degree is also a reflection of his larger and more basic problems. The enthusiasm gap between Republican and Democratic voters continues to expand. The Obama campaign wants to keep the Great Lakes from the GOP’s grasp, but it is increasingly clear that they are looking away from states like Florida and Ohio and trying to eke out an electoral win from North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico (all on Obama’s current tour itinerary):

As Democrats, we can never go back to the 2000/2004 map,” said Jim Messina, manager of Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. “All the data I’ve seen says we’re not doing that.”

However, despite more favorable demographics, Obama is not faring any better in his new target states than he is in Florida or Ohio. Indeed, “as Obama arrives in Virginia Tuesday for a two-day swing to promote parts of his jobs plan, some Democrats are distancing themselves from him — even in supposedly blue Northern Virginia.” And enthusiasm is also an issue in North Carolina, which Obama barely won in 2008. Indeed, it’s an issue overall with the key demographics Obama is targeting in picking his states, including Latinos (despite Obama’s announced non-enforcement of most illegal immigration cases) and even African-Americans (despite overt racial appeals). Obama will still win these demos handily, but getting them to vote in the first instance is what requires rebuilding his massive ground game. The effort may turn out like the stimulus — a ton of spending with not much to show for it.